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Thomas More Walking Tour in Central London

July 31, 2014

For the full map click here.

National Portrait Gallery

In the Tudor Room, you can see a copy of the 1527 family portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein's first sketch showed a great deal more religious imagery, whereas in this version, it is humanism that is on display. Nevertheless, you can still see a number of religious icons on display. If you have the time, explore the rest of the Tudor gallery, where you will see many of the figures More knew intimately. It's a great place to start this tour.

 

 

New Inn
More began his legal training in 1493 at the age of 16 at New Inn, which used to stand here. He had already spent 5 years in a grammar school (which we will visit later), 2 years in the household of Cardinal Morton at Lambeth Palace and a further 2 years at Oxford. As his father was a prominent lawyer, it made sense for the young Thomas More to study law, although his inclination may have been to continue his studies at Oxford. Aldwych Theatre stands roughly where New Inn used to be. Recently Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which featured the figure of More, were also performed here.

 

St Anthony's School
At the age of about 7, More headed off to grammar school. Here he would learn the basics of Latin grammar, as well as some English writing and grammar, and some music. School days went from 6am to 6pm, and children had to bring their own candles in the winter time. St Anthony's burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and is now located in North London.

 

Honourable Society Of Lincolns Inn

After New Inn, More studied at Lincolns Inn, where he was called to the bar. He remained a member of Lincolns Inn throughout his life, as his father had been. You can still see a statue of More above the 'Moor Gate' entrance.

 

Smithfield Market
In the 16th century, Smithfield was where heretics would be brought to be burned. The first Protestant heretic was put to death during More's chancellorship, although he probably had nothing to do with it. In all, More was probably directly involved in 3 of the 6 executions of heretics while he was chancellor, and probably came to Smithfield to watch them take place. 

 

Charterhouse Square


From about 1501-1504 More either lived in or near the Charterhouse, home to the Carthusian monks. The report that he did indeed live *in* in the Charterhouse has led to much speculation about his intentions. Did he intend to become a monk? Did he have to give up his intentions because of an inability to forsake women? Far more likely was that More used the Charterhouse for its substantial library, and as a quiet space to study, work and pray. He did leave in 1504 to get married, but that might have had as much to do with wanting to have a family as wanting to have a wife.

 

Guildhall
From 1510-1518 More served as two undersheriffs for London, advising on legal matters and working on city projects. Much of the city business would take place here at the Guildhall. On 30 April 1517 at 7pm, More was called to an emergency meeting at the Guildhall because of rumours of riotous disturbances. It had been a tough winter and spring, and the Londoners were turning against foreign tradesmen. More immediately rushed off to the king's council, who imposed an 830pm curfew, but it was too late. The Evil May Day riots broke out at about 11pm, and ran until the early hours of the next morning. More tried to calm the crowd, but had to retreat when they began to throw bricks. 14 people were executed, and the king pardoned over 300. More did not remain undersheriff much longer, and by 1518 was in the king's court. Of course, this was not much safer...

 

St Lawrence Jewry
More may have been baptized here, and in 1501, at the age of 24 he delivered a series of lectures on St Augustine's the City of God, a 5th-century text comparing the earthy city to the divine one. According to reports, More impressed the esteemed crowds which had gathered. Unfortunately, no record of his lectures survive, aside from a comment that they focused on history and philosophy, rather than theology.

 

Milk Street
Between 2 and 3 in the morning of 7 February 1478, Thomas More was born here on Milk Street in Cheapside. He was born into a fairly well-off family, although from relatively humble roots. His most immediate ancestors were a brewer, a baker, and a candle-stick maker. His father, however, was a rising London lawyer, whose court connections would guarantee his son an excellent education.

 

Bucklersbury
More and his young wife moved into a part of a large mansion house on Bucklersbury in 1504. More would remain here with his family until they moved to Chelsea in 1520. It was at Bucklersbury that More's 3 daughters and son would begin their education. More, contrary to most practice until the 20th century believed in educating his daughters alongside his sons.

 

The Mercers' Company

In 1509, More became a member of the Mercers' Guild, one of London's leading merchant communities. He was probably being rewarded for work done for the guild, and he would continue to periodically work on their behalf for the next decade. The Mercers provided powerful connections for More. He rented his first family home from the Mercers, and his second wife was the widow of a Mercer.

 

Tower of London
Thomas More was brought to the Tower in April 1534 for refusing to swear to the Oath of Succession, recognizing Henry VIII as head of the church, and Anne Boleyn as his wife. He remained in prison until July 1535, when he was found guilty of treason and executed. Immediately his execution between a European controversy. His family spent the next 100 years as Catholic exiles, petitioning to have him canonized as a Catholic martyr and saint. This finally took place in 1935.

 

 

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